Flaming Nightmare


I glance around the football field. It seems busier than usual. Like, I’m almost sure there are more students here today than there were last week. I wonder how many of them are actually from Boca Linda, and how many have downloaded from their own respective schools for lunchtime power hour. Not that I could tell either way; the only people I know at Boca Linda are sitting beside me. The rest of the school may as well be empty for all the attention Ernie, Eva, Jan, and myself get. I can’t say I blame the older kids, though. At very nearly thirteen, I’m probably less interested in making friends with ten-year-olds than the fifteen and sixteen-year-olds are in making friends with me. I get it. Still, it would be nice to be acknowledged once in a while. SuperMegaNet was supposed to connect me and the rest of the Runt Squad to the world. Instead, we just connected with each other, and that was it. I’m not complaining. I had zero friends before. Now I have three. That’s an increase of three-hundred percent. And if I’m telling the truth, it kind of makes sense. Social cliques are all or nothing. The Runt Squad, we’re neither black nor white. We’re…grayscale. Nobody knows what to do with us. Nobody wants to know.

Look at the jock workbenches. You might think all you need are sleek muscles and a competitive attitude to pull up a stool, but listen to them talk for a few minutes. Yeah, muscles and attitude help, but participation in a sport slash being on a team is also mandatory. Eva could probably worm her way in…if only she wore makeup and had breasts and was three years older. Maybe Jan, if he really turned on the charm. And was three years older. Ernie? He’s more Jovian. If he weren’t so crass, I could see people orbiting around his mass like moons around Jupiter. Introverted geeks like me who listen to Asia and also happen to go to their mom’s gym? We occupy the crevices between the cliques. The thespians, the lesbians, the Goths, stoners, losers, jocks, geeks, and general affluents, to name but a few, all have singular identities.

I glance down at my Joey Martin skin.

I’m literally grayscale.

“Nice Hella War cloth.”

Snapping out of a reverie I didn’t even realize I was in, I look up. Ernie’s just paid a dubious compliment to that Mark Howard guy I run into from time to time. I think Jan has Mr. Johnson’s class with him or something. Oh, and Eva once mentioned him being on the wrestling team. Which makes sense, because he’s absolutely ripped—and oddly top-heavy. Like, he’s all pecs and biceps, as if he just works out those two muscle groups and gets to the rest of himself in his spare time.

Mark stops beside Ernie’s workbench, glances down at his designer loincloth. “Thanks. You play?”

“I’ve been known to dabble,” Ernie replies. “My deathboard ranking is Bloody Entrails.”

“Mine’s Flaming Nightmare.”

What? You’ve made it to Flaming Nightmare?”

Mark grins. “Hellpocalypse campaign. 100,000 XP.”

Eva sends Jan a confused look. “What are they talking about?”

Hella War,” Jan replies.

I explain further: “It’s that action role-playing hack-and-slash video game that was in the news last month for causing violent diarrhea in a bunch of players.” Though more of a Nintendo fanboy, I can still appreciate the fact that to get to Flaming Nightmare in Hella War, you’ve got to be insanely good.

“Of course that’s a thing.” Eva shakes her head. “Of course.”

“Hey, it’s a better white noise than racist conspiracy theories involving make-believe cassette tapes.”

“I guess.”

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Jesse Gordon

Geek. Writer. Supreme overlord of the SUPERMEGANET pseudoverse. Author of THE OATMEAL MAN, DOOKIE, and other such wasteful nonsense.